Clive Owen and Sophie Okonedo went home empty-handed. Like many critics, I had maintained the slightly delusional hope that the Academy might honor Mike Leigh and Imelda Staunton for their outstanding film Vera Drake. I even fantasized about a droll speech from Leigh at the podium.
As we all secretly feared, however, a film about an abortionist was never going to go over as well as his multi-Oscared Gilbert and Sullivan picture Topsy-Turvy.
Frankly, the best of New Hollywood was represented in the writing awards: Best Animated Feature for The Incredibles by Brad Bird, an excellent movie that should have been allowed to slug it out with the live-action offerings in the best film category. Best Original Screenplay went to Charlie Kaufman's intriguing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
The Oscar was well-chosen: original is precisely what Kaufman's script is, in an age when screenwriting seminars instruct people in all the three-act, obstacle-overcoming cliches. And any awards ceremony that honors a film whose title quotes Alexander Pope can never be accused of dumbing down.
Then there was Best Adapted Screenplay for Alexander Payne's glorious film Sideways, taken from the novel by Rex Pickett. Better than nothing, I suppose. Payne certainly won't be miserably repairing to his nearest fast-food joint, like Paul Giamatti in that film, to chug fine wine from a styrofoam cup. But Sideways is incomparably finer, richer, funnier and flat-out better than those preening, pumped-up contenders from Scorsese and Eastwood.
They were flashy but pretty moderate compared with Payne's high-IQ picture, with its four beautifully judged performances (especially Giamatti, who wasn't even nominated) and also compared with Mike Leigh's powerful, daring film.
Another middling evening at the Oscars, then, with no massive sweep like Titanic or Return of the King to galvanize the TV audiences and cinema-going public, but rather the spectacle of two greying titans, Eastwood and Scorsese, going head to head with films that don't represent their best work.